There’s something folky in the water in the North East. Just ask siblings Rachel and Becky Unthank, who make up one of the most innovative and critically acclaimed folk bands in modern history. Known for their timeless, unsentimental and quietly subversive tales of loss, fear, booze, brawls, abuse and sorrow, The Unthanks are honest, young storytellers outside of time, forging links between folk worlds old, new and other. It’s hard to imagine a British folk band with fans like Radiohead, Portishead, Robert Wyatt, Ben Folds, Elvis Costello, Rosanne Cash, Ewan McGregor and Nick Hornby, but The Unthanks occupy a unique place in music. Influenced as much by the minimalist eccentricity of Steve Reich, Antony & The Johnsons, Robert Wyatt and Miles Davis, as they are by their Geordie native North East England, back home The Unthanks have established themselves as the most innovative and critically acclaimed folk band in modern history.
Using a kaleidoscope of unlikely instruments, their unique approach to storytelling straddles the complex relationship between modernism and learning from the past. Staunch traditionalism and sonic adventure ought to be polar opposites, yet they are easy bedfellows in the gentle hands of The Unthanks; the British counterpart to the leftfield folk leanings of Sufjan Stevens, Bonnie Prince Billy and Tom Waits. The Unthanks don’t sound like any of these acts but belong to a growing number of artists definable only by their restless, peerless eccentricity.
Formerly known as Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, their second album The Bairns (2007) was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and appeared in The Best Albums of the Decade in both Uncut and The Guardian. The follow up, 2009’s Here’s The Tender Coming was both BBC and Mojo Magazine Folk Album of the Year and featured in almost every UK music magazine and broadsheet Albums of the Year poll.’ With such an influential and diverse list of prominent supporters, The Unthanks must be doing something right. Come find out what it is at the Fringe Tent at Split Festival this year.